Conceptual artist, photographer and sculptor Helen Chadwick studied at Brighton Polytechnic (1973-76) and the Chelsea School of Art, London (1976 – 77). Chadwick embraced the sensuous aspects of the natural world, breaking taboos of the ‘normal’ and ‘tradiational’ in art historical pedogogy. Her innovative and provocative use of a rich variety of materials, such as flesh, flowers, chocolate and fur, was hugely influential on subsequent generations of artists, including the Young British Artists.
Her strongly associative and visceral images were intended to question gender representation and the nature of desire. This theme was continued in Model Institution (1981), an ‘architectural-sculpture’ of five drab booths as would be found in a Social Security office, intended to reflect the high unemployment and economic frustrations of the time. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s her work became richer and more direct in impact. A fountain of thick chocolate called Cacao carried associations with excessively physical desire and pleasure, while at the same time being nauseating.
Chadwick’s experiments with material were innovative and unconventional and captured a state of a world in flux. Piss Flowers (1991 – 92), in which she cast the interior spaces left in the snow by warm urine, are at once both repulsive and beautiful, and it is this combination that typifies Chadwick’s work: aesthetic beauty created out of an alliance of unconventional, often vile, materials. ‘Anatolia’ was made as part of commission of works to be displayed in NHS hospitals and clinics. Inspired by medical procedures, the artist superimposed blown-up images of her own cells (which were infected by viruses) onto rocky landscapes. The abstracted work has many visual connotations, for example with an ultrasound pregnancy scan.
She was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1987, and her work is included in the Tate Collection as well as the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.